Rob Kazinsky on Bringing Orgrim Doomhammer to Life in Warcraft
For many gamers, there’s nothing more sacred than the Warcraft universe. Many of us, myself included, have spent over a decade exploring the lands of Azeroth in World of Warcraft. Others have spent years playing the different custom maps of Warcraft III, from which the titanic Dota would spawn.
It’s hard to think of any franchise that has shaped the trend of modern gaming more. From the blending of RPG and strategy elements to the explosion of the MMO marketplace, Warcraft has always been at the forefront of setting the trends. And that’s not even mentioning Blizzard’s other genre defining titles like Diablo or the recent Overwatch.
But we don’t just love these games because they are good. We love the universes they create, with Warcraft in particular shaping a world that rivals any high fantasy setting ever conceived. It’s constantly evolving, changing from expansion to expansion, but at its core is a fundamentally gripping story of orcs vs humans. Even from the start, it was clear that Warcraft was a different beast. I remember as a kid buying the old Warcraft box set, complete with Orcs & Humans, Tides of Darkness, and Beyond the Dark Portal. In it were the various lore books, a novella’s worth of backstory for each game. At a time when strategy games were just so many blocky pixels on a screen, it’s these stories that captured my imagination. I remember sitting at the pool after swim practice, pouring over the exploits of characters like Anduin Lothar and Orgrim Doomhammer. These memories are integral to what made me the gamer I am today.
So if you read my recent review for the Warcraft film, you’ll see that I had but one real problem with their handling of the lore. I was always more of a Horde kid than Alliance, and no self-respecting orc fan doesn’t recognize the name Orgrim Doomhammer. His exploits are legendary, and his mythic Doomhammer lives today in both World of Warcraft and Hearthstone (to the bane of many control players; screw you, aggro Shaman). Hell, even The Horde’s capital city of Orgrimmar is his namesake. So when Anduin Lothar was given the role of slaying Blackhand instead of Orgrim, I was kinda pissed.
As fate would have it, I had a chance to talk to Rob Kazinsky recently, who had the honor of portraying Orgrim in the film. I really wanted to know what it was like as an actor trying to portray an eight-foot tall 700-pound orc.
Rob: “I’ve said this before in interviews, but I didn’t have much trouble with the role. As an actor, there’s a vanity to every shot. You have to worry about how the lights catch your face, if your makeup is still right, all this kind of ego that’s hard to shake. But when you’re working with mocap, you can just focus on the role. I was able to embrace becoming this monstrous hulking creature fully. Oh, I will say that my biggest problem with the role was shaving. When you do mocap you have to keep it all clean, and I’m more of a rugged beard kind of guy.”
Still, an actor markets himself on being seen. If the face on the camera isn’t yours, but some CGI character, you lose that recognizability. So as an actor, I was curious why he went for the role of Orgrim when there were so many human characters.
Rob: “I actually really pushed for the role of Orgrim. I’m a massive WoWhead, at one point I was one of the highest rated players in the world. I went down the rabbit hole hard, and for years. I had to give it up around Cataclysm, which was okay since the raid content was getting a bit too easy anyways. I’ve been thinking about picking up Legion, all my old guildies are saying it’s the best expansion since Wrath. Even though I stopped, those guild mates are still some of my best friends. They’re basically my family. I was at a really dark time in my life when I played, and it got me through. So when I was auditioning for the film, I knew I wanted a role that I could bring my level of fan love and respect to. Of course, Orgrim was my obvious choice. There’s arguably no one in the original timeline that had more influence over the events of the story. I knew that if someone was going to be playing Doomhammer, it had to be me.”
As a well documented nerd, there are plenty of interviews where Rob talks about the effect Warcraft had on his life. As a one-time troubled teen myself, I can honestly say that some of the best years of my life were spent with my guild. They got me through some dark days as well, and I’ll never forget them. But hey, as a huge nerd, he must have some opinion about the changes they made to the story!
Rob: “Let me say, there was a big argument on set over who was going to kill Blackhand. It’s such a big part of the story, I had a hard time accepting the change. But look, we had to make the best movie we could. It’s my personal opinion that the lore should match, but at the same time you’re making a movie, not a game. There were certain elements we had to alter to fit the runtime and make it flow. Some of the smaller things, like making Orgrim a Frostwolf instead of a Blackrock, aren’t going to really break the core of the story. So I get why the changes were made, and I think it turned out well. But, yeah, that one I had a few words about.”
While I can see the point, I’m still going to publicly grumble about it. Grumble grumble, Horde pride, grumble grumble, Lok’tar Ogar. I’m just glad it turned out well. Regardless of my opinion however, the money is what talks most. The fact of the matter is, the film didn’t do very well in the US, but absolutely blew the foreign market out of the water. While only grossing $47.2 million Stateside, it made $386.3 million internationally, $221 million in China alone. I asked him why, in his opinion, there was such a big discrepancy.
Rob: “Hmm, yeah, it’s a big question. I think a lot of it comes from an inherent snobbishness about video game adaptations. People kind of turn up their noses when you say ‘based on a video game.’ It’s not entirely unwarranted either; Hollywood hasn’t done the best job of making good video game movies. But look, games have already been films in their own right for a long time. Some of the best stories, worlds, characters, etc., come from video games. You try to take that and boil it down into a movie, and people are going to go, ‘Wait, where’s that thing I liked?’ So yeah, there’s a lot of work we have to do to gain the trust of gamers, and I think Warcraft was a great step in that direction. We went into it with the attitude that we wanted to make the best video game movie to date, and I think we did a pretty good job.”
With such a massive foreign profit, the prospect of a sequel is still very real. Coupled with the fact that Blizzard recently announced the formation of Activision Blizzard Studios, it’s time for the rumor mill to start whirring. I needed to know, what did Rob see for the future of the franchise?
Rob: “Our initial goal was to do a three-part trilogy, kind of like Lord of the Rings. With the first film, we covered the events of Warcraft: Orcs & Humans. There’s still the events of Tides of Darkness and Beyond the Dark Portal, which would likely be the second and third films, respectively. Honestly, I would absolutely love to keep working on these films forever. It’s exciting for me to think about what might be in store for Orgrim. He’s a huge part of the events of the Second War, and even beyond that before the events of Warcraft III. But as of now, I haven’t heard any concrete details about what’s to come.”
To be fair, even if he did know, he couldn’t tell me.
As an avid gamer, I rarely run into anyone with my same level of passion. Nerds come in all forms, but video game nerds are a special breed. We aren’t just spectators watching a show, we’re living it every day. World of Warcraft isn’t just about characters like Thrall or Varian Wrynn, it’s about us. It’s about Carithina, my Blood Elf Warlock who faced down the likes of Illidan Stormrage and Arthas Menethil. Rob is one of us, a nerd who got to do something very special: live the role as part of the world.
If you’re not a Warcraft fan, you’ve probably spent this entire article with a weird look on your face. Yes, my passion is borderline creepy to a layman. But it isn’t to anyone that understands, that’s been down that rabbit hole with me. At this point, watching the movie and learning about its origins, I can say that the more I learn about it the more I respect it. It’s leaving me hungry for what’s next, just like the games it was based on. And that really is the essence of Warcraft. Check it out now on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD.